ST. PETERSBURG — Will Power will start from the pole at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
The two-time Grand Prix winner and 2014 IndyCar Series champion claimed the pole here for the seventh time in eight years by clocking a lap of 61.0640 seconds during Saturday's qualifying session. He topped Scott Dixon, 2013 Grand Prix winner James Hinchcliffe and Team Penske teammate Josef Newgarden and will start first in today's season opener.
"Very happy to be on the pole," Power said.
He'll be happier if he can actually start (and finish) the race around the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street course. He missed the Grand Prix last year because of nausea and dizziness, which were diagnosed as a concussion at the time.
Mario Andretti weighs in
Racing legend Mario Andretti remains optimistic about the health of the series, especially after IndyCar announced multi-year extensions with Honda, Chevrolet, Firestone and Dallara this weekend.
"That's what you need. … " Andretti said. "There's no question that the series has been gaining momentum. They had a lot of ground to make up since the mistakes that were made in the '90s. A lot of ground that NASCAR had gained. …
"The level of talent in this series right now is unprecedented. My wife says, 'Look at all these drivers, they're all young.' Yes! That's wonderful. These are guys that have been around a long time and they're still young. We really have some good, interesting characters. So the series has life, real life."
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From Jupiter to St. Petersburg
Jupiter native Oliver Askew's performance Saturday — a win and a runner-up finish in his first two USF2000 series races — is even more impressive considering where he was six months ago.
"My family ran out of money," Askew said.
Askew is the son of an air traffic controller and a stay-at-home mom. His family didn't have the cash to jump from go-karts to cars, and the 20-year-old didn't have a backup plan for his career.
Askew began making phone calls and landed a scholarship for a spot in an 18-car shootout in California. When Askew won that race, he earned a $200,000 scholarship that got him a ride with Florida-based Cape Motorsports in the USF2000 series — the bottom rung on the Road to Indy ladder. And that led to Saturday's victory, in his second race in the series.
"It's everything," Askew said.
Quote of the day
"He will tell me the setup of his car but he wouldn't tell me the setup of his hair." -- Tony Kanaan on his longtime friend and rival, the well-coiffed Helio Castroneves
By the numbers
265 - Consecutive starts for Tony Kanaan, who hasn't missed a race since 2001. He starts his 20th IndyCar season today
45 - Career poles won by Will Power, fifth most in series history
8 - Times Team Penske has won the Grand Prix, including three in a row
4 - Consecutive times the driver who starts fourth has won the Grand Prix. Josef Newgarden starts fourth today in the No. 2 Chevrolet that Juan Pablo Montoya drove to victory each of the last two years
4.3 - Average starting position for the race winner since 2005. The driver who started fourth has won the Grand Prix four times in a row
4 - Former race winners in the field (Power, Helio Castroneves, Graham Rahal and James Hinchcliffe)
Nuts and bolts
St. Petersburg resident Sebastien Bourdais hit the tire wall during qualifying. He'll start last in the 21-car field. … Andrew Aquilante, who swept the Pirelli World Challenge's GTS class races, used an entirely St. Petersburg-based crew.
Contact Matt Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.